Southwest is still taking this passenger under its wing

Two years ago, Southwest abandoned a takeoff from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio, to remove Peggy Uhle from a flight.

She was completely on board with getting off.

Having just learned that her son, Michael, had gone into a coma from an accident, the crew had immediately arranged to divert her to his bedside, entirely at the airline’s own expense. Uhle never knew what happened until Southwest told her, after Michael’s father told them — cell phones were off.

Michael thankfully survived.

And so did her story.

Uhle recently checked back with us to share how Michael has improved since his serious head injury. The Good News Guy was honored to have originally shared her Southwest experience in 2015 (and again in 2016) after she contacted Elliott.org to do something many of us overlook in our grumpy society — praise instead of complain.

Compassion and good business are not mutually exclusive. And Southwest is no stranger to our columns as a good natured airline that will even reunite a forgotten library book with a passenger.

The retelling of Uhle’s experience by others still makes the social media rounds — so much so that Snopes verified it. She continues to appreciate Southwest not just because of how it went way above and beyond, but also because of what they still do.

“I think the world of Southwest, and we continue to use them for all of our flights — 15 this year,” Uhle said. “I still hear from the stewardess who was on that flight, and she recently arranged to have someone meet us at the Tampa air terminal to give Michael a few gifts including a ball cap and duffel bag.”

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Southwest could have easily rested on their two-year-old laurels on a positive note. But not this time.

“They still continue to be courteous and considerate when we travel, and even the TSA at one airport we frequent recognizes Michael with a warm greeting,” Uhle went on. “My son suffered a traumatic brain injury and continues to recover. He still travels in a wheelchair requiring extra assistance.”

Unless you have been living in the woods off the grid, ignoring bad airline behavior in the media would be difficult. And flyers wanting to make last-minute air travel changes without fees or penalties saturate our Forum at a time when seats are easily resold and airline profits are not hurting. Well, maybe they are for United. I wonder why?

This time, an airline removed a passenger for a good reason, and Southwest acted so quickly that Uhle never had a chance to even think about ticketing issues. And never needed to. The gate attendants had already booked her on a nonstop flight back home to Denver before her original flight returned to the gate, including luggage transfer, a private waiting area, priority boarding, and a meal — all without asking. They even checked on her and Michael repeatedly after she arrived at his bedside.

Wow.

Michael and his family still have a ways to go with recovery.

“He continues to get better and is fortunate to have one of the best rehab hospitals in the country,” added Uhle. “He relearned how to walk, talk and just about everything else while keeping his sense of humor and intelligence, and is still working hard at rehab with his family beside him. He was a college athlete, cyclist, snowboarder and an ‘all-in’ guy, well-liked by co-workers and friends. Life is not the same anymore, but we are so grateful, especially when we realize others with similar stories are not so fortunate.”

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Tissues all around at Elliott.org.

So, what is it about Southwest that makes it annoyingly difficult to find a reason to complain? Are they really that good? Maybe. Probably. I have had a couple of unsatisfactory past experiences among my positive ones, and so have others. But perfection is an elusive goal with any gargantuan operation having so many moving parts and millions of customers.

Southwest knows its continued consideration for Uhle and her son are not lost on a positive media presence at a time of airline backlash. But is the airline any less sincere or caring when their reps continue to exceed job descriptions long after the airline was ahead two years ago?

Perhaps it is its willingness to make the personal connection of intention and sincerely want to help, especially without being asked — or invest heavily in its employees as its primary asset. In the end, Southwest is still profitable for the right reasons as a business should be.

“Life can change in an instant, so enjoy your kids,” Uhle concluded. “You cannot live in fear nor pass it onto your kids. All three of my boys are pole vaulters and am surprised we didn’t go through something like this sooner!”

I could not have said it better.


Andrew Der

Der is an environmental consultant and travel journalist specializing in water science, nature, eco-travel, and cultural destinations

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